As China reopens to the world three years after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a serious threat, Vietnamese airlines have started to resume regular flights to major Chinese cities from January 8.
As announced by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in December last year, both Chinese and foreign airlines could return to their pre-pandemic flights as per their bilateral Air Service Agreements, indicating that temporary restrictions on the number of international passenger flights as well as the limitation on passenger load factors will be lifted.
Vietnam’s national flag carrier plans to resume all flights between Hanoi and Nanjing, and Shanghai, including connectivities between Ho Chi Minh City and five other major Chinese airports: Shenzen, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Sichuan, and Guangzhou. A total of six flights to each destination each week are expected.
In March, Vietnam Airlines will also increase its flight frequency to Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.
Furthermore, Vietjet Air’s flights between HCMC and Shenzen, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Sichuan, and Wuhan, are set to return, each with six weekly flights. Starting January 23, VietJet will launch flights between Cam Ranh and Changsha, as well as Chengdu.
Pacific Airlines is set to open routes between Hanoi, Hangzhou, and Nanning, each with two weekly flights. They also plan to resume flights to Guangzhou and Fuzhou starting this summer.
While Vietravel Airlines currently has no flights to China, the airline plans to introduce chartered flights from Cam Ranh and Da Nang to Hangzhou.
Prior to the announcement by the CAAC, Bamboo Airways debuted its Hanoi-Tianjin route with two flights carrying nearly 400 passengers on December 6, with a plan to continue the way with a single flight per week. The airline also plans to launch six new flight routes to China this summer.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), the Chinese market for air travel is still unstable as passengers are still wary of the pandemic, not to mention the fact that the economy is still in a vulnerable state. Considering the restrictions and the health risks, passengers in this first phase are expected to mainly be those in official businesses, business people, and students.
As a result, Vietnamese airline operators proposed to have relaxed visa policies for Chinese tourists. With Vietnam’s target to have eight million foreign visitors for 2023, China’s reopening, without many tourists, will not make that much difference.
In 2019, China was the biggest source of foreign visitors to Vietnam, with 5.8 million out of the 18 million that year, followed by South Korea with 4.29 million, and Japan with 952,000, according to the General Statistics Office.
Chinese nationals return to their home country.
Thousands of Chinese nationals, who are mostly workers at an industrial park in the northern part of Vietnam, flocked to the Mong Cai International Border Gate on Sunday to return to their home country after three years of being away.
In the first two hours since the border gate opened, at least 1,000 Chinese nationals successfully crossed into Chinese territory. Mong Cai Customs Authorities have ordered immigration staff to prepare to serve at least 5,000 to 15,000 people each day.
As for Huu Nghi Border Gate Border Guard Station, in the northern border province of Lang Son, more or less 5,000 people showed up on Sunday, compared to 250 on a normal day.
While the border reopening is a huge step made by the Chinese authorities, China still implements its uncompromising rules, such as requiring all who crossed to produce negative RT-PCR COVID-19 tests completed within 48 hours of immigrating. In addition, during the first phase of border reopening, the country will only allow its citizens to enter. Vietnamese and other foreign individuals will have to be patient for now.
Regarding travel requirements from China, Vietnam has yet to impose and update any specific COVID-related restrictions. Late December last year, when China initially announced they’ll soon reopen their borders, Vietnamese experts said they’re confident a surge in cases is unlikely to happen because of the vaccine coverage and high herd immunity.
Tran Dac Phu, a senior Public Health Emergency Operations Center senior advisor, told local media that "Vietnam is unlikely to witness another COVID-19 outbreak as most people have already been infected with COVID-19, and carry antibodies," adding that Vietnam should not ban or test arrivals from China.
Since China was Vietnam’s biggest tourism market before the pandemic, experts agreed that COVID-19 tests should not be a requirement for people coming from all parts of China.
However, as the Tet holiday approaches, the same experts warned the public to be vigilant when traveling domestically or internationally.
Singapore and other Southeast Asian nations share the same confidence that there is no need to impose strict entry requirements for travelers from China. But the US, as well as India, Italy, Japan, and Taiwan, remain firm and would require mandatory COVID-19 tests for Chinese visitors.